Wednesday, October 13, 2010
I always hated playing Arkansas. It had nothing to do with their record, if they were great or terrible, or how we matched-up. It was never a game we circled on the schedule, talked about in the summer, knew any of their players, coaches, history, or traditions. None of us grew up watching Arkansas, dreamed to play for or against the Razorbacks, and most of us were never recruited, visited, or saw one of their games as recruits. Arkansas never brought out the best in us, it didn't bring out the competitive drive, it never sparked the emotional high you must play with to win against good football teams. And the recent past points to much of the same...Auburn being ambivalent with regard to Arkansas football. It's a shame too. Arkansas has prevented some talented, successful Auburn football teams from playing for SEC titles in the past 10 years. Without thinking hard at all I can come up three or four years in the last 10 where losing to Arkansas has kept us from going to Atlanta.
This is the worst matchup of the year for Auburn. The strength of Arkansas' Ryan Mallett and his plethora of WRs against the inconsistent Auburn pass defense. It will be the most unconventional, pro-style, throw to set up the deeper throw, offense we see this season and my confidence is not at an all time high that we are up to the task. The Kentucky game really soured my perception of our pass defense. Up until last Saturday, I was fairly confident we were steadily improving and thought by week 7 against a stout Arkansas offense we would be challenging receivers all over the football field. I thought we took a step backwards last week. Until last Saturday, I thought we could get a decent four man pass rush against just about anyone. Didn't see it against the Cats. Perhaps I'm putting too much credence into what took place defensively in Lexington, but it gives me pause. When Kentucky was forced into obvious passing situations it didn't matter, they converted time after time with ease...Kentucky!! Mike freaking Hartline! Four incompletions all game! The silver lining I guess is this...UK did everything quick, eliminated the pass rush by calling quick pass routes. That's not Arkansas' style. Arkansas wants to kill you quickly...they're not patient...they want it all in one shot. Auburn has done a good job in preventing that from happening at the expense of giving up several long, blood pressure raising, monotonous drives. But that could be enough to force an Arkansas turnover here or there. It could cause Mallett to press and try to fit a ball into a space that's not there, to hang onto a ball a little longer than he should allowing for sack opportunities. It'll be an interesting back and forth. But in my heart of hearts, when I go to battle with Bobby Petrino in one corner and Ted Roof in the other...and Ted Roof is my guy...I'm a little concerned. Not a shot a Roof, but a testament to Petrino's preparation and playcalling ability.
Offensively, we have to make every possession count. No three and outs. Can't give away possessions with fumbles, INTs, drive killing penalties, etc. It's a great feeling as an Auburn fan knowing you have quick strike potential or grind it out ball control. Nothing beats having confidence you're signal caller can put the team on his shoulders and use his God given superior talent to take over a game. No matter how poorly the defense plays, the offense has the potential to keep us in and win every game we play. As I've been saying..they just have to stay out of their own way.
I hope to see our tailbacks have a big game and help control the ball and the clock. Defensively, Arkansas is better than most people give credit. Every defense we play from here on out will play with a chip on their shoulder in an effort to slow down Newton...to make him beat you through the air. Arkansas will be tough to crack early on, but sustaining drives will wear them down as the game progresses.
I'll be most interested to see how much pressure we're able to get on Mallett. Can we do it rushing four and protecting the shell of the defense or do we have to bring the house and expose a vulnerable secondary? Normally, shutting down the run and forcing your opponent into predictable situations is at the top of my list of musts to win, but I really don't think Arkansas cares...positive yards rushing is just icing on the cake...they want to to chunk it. Turnovers ultimately reign supreme in this one as possessions and field position will declare the winner.
I hope I'm proven wrong, but the matchup appears to be a poor one.